The Tulsa Drillers struggled offensively during their previous homestand, losing all six games. That was not the case Sunday night at ONEOK Field in the opener of a four-game series with Northwest Arkansas. Tulsa scored a run in all but two innings and defeated the Naturals 6-5.
For the Drillers, it was their third straight win after dropping a season high eight games in a row. The victory was their first at ONEOK Field since June 23.
Sunday's game started quickly with each team plating a run in the first inning. For the Naturals, their run came courtesy of a solo homer from Brian Fletcher, his seventh of the season.
Tulsa answered in the bottom half of the inning as leadoff hitter Jaron Shepherd was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on a one-out single by Kyle Parker.
Catcher Dustin Garneau put the Drillers in front 2-1 in the second inning with his sixth home run of the year, but the Naturals promptly retook the lead with a three-run third.
Brett Eibner produced the first run with his 12th homer of the season.
A two-out single by Fletcher set the stage for Matt Fields who delivered his league-leading 23rd home run to put Northwest Arkansas back in front 4-2.
The Naturals would not score again until the ninth inning as Tulsa crept closer with another run in the bottom of the third, and Shepherd was again involved. The outfielder led off with a double, and after a sacrifice bunt, scored his second run of the game when shortstop Rey Navarro committed a throwing error on a ground ball by Parker.
Kyle Parker is thrown out at the plate in the third inning of Tulsa's 6-5 win Sunday night at ONEOK Field.
The run cut the Naturals lead to one, but the Drillers missed a chance to have a bigger inning as they had two runners thrown out at the plate to end the third. After a one-out double from Kiel Roling, Parker was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a ground ball to second from Tyler Kuhn. Angelys Nina followed with a base hit to right field, but Roling was thrown out trying to score on the play, keeping the Naturals in front 4-3.
Tulsa leveled the score in the fifth inning as Parker led off with a double and scored on a base hit by Kuhn. The inning ended when the Drillers lost another runner on the base paths as Nina was picked off first base.
The lost runners did not prove costly as Tulsa finally took the lead for good with its fifth run of the game in the sixth. Garneau led off with a double, moved to third on a fly out and scored on a sacrifice fly from Jayson Langfels.
The Garneau and Langfels duo struck again in the eighth inning to add what proved to be an important insurance run. With one out, Garneau again doubled and scored on a two-out base hit by Langfels to give the Drillers a 6-4 lead.
The Naturals made things uncomfortable for the Drillers in the ninth, cutting the lead to one run and putting the potential game-tying run on base. Cheslor Cuthbert drew a one-out walk from closer Cole White and moved to second on a passed ball. Navarro then plated Cuthbert with a base hit to right. But after White retired Mitch Canham on a fly ball for the second out, the game ended when Navarro was thrown out trying to steal second.
Tulsa starting pitcher Chad Bettis worked six innings to collect the win and improve his record to 3-4. He surrendered four runs on five hits and did not walk a batter while striking out six.
Josh Mueller and Juan Gonzalez each worked a scoreless relief inning, while White allowed only the one run to pick up his tenth save.
Garneau led Tulsa's 11-hit attack with three extra-base hits. Langfels and Parker added two hits each, while Shepherd reached base four times with a double, two walks and a hit by pitch.
Northwest Arkansas starting pitcher Brooks Pounder took the loss, dropping his record to 4-5.
The two teams will meet in the second game of their four-game series Monday night at ONEOK Field. Sean Gallagher (4-3, 2.17 ERA) will pitch for the Drillers against Andy Ferguson (1-3, 5.40 ERA) of the Naturals. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05PM.